Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Happy Hylaeus

Spent a pleasant half hour or so in a lovely garden this afternoon,  in company with more solitary bees than we have so far seen in one place.  The combination of toasty sunshine and a large-flowered potentilla was very popular with some Hylaeus

Hylaeus solitary bees - female at lower left, male (with white face) at right
 A bit of dancing about led to some bee-on-bee action - no wonder he has a smile on his face!

Double take

Anyone else notice a similarity here?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Mummy..... aaargh!

Some of the tiny wasps parasitise aphids, laying a single egg into their living hosts.  The young wasps develop inside the aphid, where they pupate, then eventually emerge.  This is a bit of mousear, with a live aphid (the little, green one on the stem) and an aphid mummy (the bloated brown one, on the leaf).  You can see the 'trapdoor' at the back of the aphid mummy, where the young wasp has cut its way out.

 The wasps responsible really are tiny, so we're unlikely to spot them, unless we're taking five minutes out to peruse the goings-on in some shrubbery or similar (it does happen!).

Cheshire Cat in Reading Garden

We spotted this cat grinning at us, sitting in the midst of a climbing plant on top of a pergola in a garden in Reading.

It must have watched us the whole time we were sampling in the garden and we only spotted it on our way out. What a great look-out!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Host and Parasite: the Cuckoo Bee and the Hairy-Footed Flower Bee

We just collected an intriguing pair of bees in a well-tended back garden in Reading: the cleptoparasitic (thieving) Melecta albifrons (Cuckoo Bee) and its host Anthophora plumipes (the Hairy-Footed Flower Bee). The female Cuckoo bee will lay her egg in a Flower Bee burrow, next to the pollen gathered by the Flower bee. Then her larva will hatch and consume the food that was intended for the Flower Bee’s own offspring. The bees were collected in quick succession on a Lunaria annua and a Symphytum officinalis flower. They’re most common in the South-East of England, so keep a look out for the species if you have a Flower Bee colony in your garden!

On the left side you see the Flower Bee with collected pollen at its legs, on the right is the Cuckoo Bee.

Charismatic MICRO-fauna

It has long been remarked that conservation funds and attention are focused largely on the charismatic fluffy and feathery mega-fauna.  Well, we won’t argue with prevailing opinion, but we do think it’s worth addressing the size issue.  Can small invertebrates get honorary membership in the category? We think this tiny bumble bee should! 

We encountered this little fluff-ball in an allotment in Reading and it is now part of the growing collection of specimens we have from urban areas across the town. So far, we’ve not encountered any other insects that compete with this little fellow in the cute-stakes. Could there be any potential contenders from other Project cities? Watch this space...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Science Picnic at Bristol Botanical Gardens

On the 12th of June we – the Bristol team – participated in a science picnic hosted by the wonderful Bristol University Botanic Gardens. It was a chance for members of the public to come and hear about the work that we do as well as ask us questions. 

Kath, who manages the team,  talked about all three stages of the Urban Pollinators’ project; the work done last year in farmer’s fields, nature reserves and urban areas, the concentration on urban areas in the second year as well as the plans to plant flower meadows in urban areas next year. She also went into detail about the fieldwork her minions are doing across four cities in Britain. Lynne and Clare were on hand to demonstrate our sampling technique, enlightening the crowd whilst pretending to catch nonexistent pollinators. 

We even took along a colony of Bombus terrestris which attracted a lot of interest and detailed questions. We all enjoyed meeting the public to discuss pollinators, and even enjoyed the challenging questions they asked us. Overall it was a very successful evening!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Edinburgh eco-schools fair

On Wednesday, as the Olympic torch was making its way along Princes Street, Pierre and Deppie were representing the Urban Pollinators Project at the Edinburgh Eco-schools fair. Their outstanding stall featured a pinned insect display, a pollinators identification game – with sweets to be won – and a hive of live bumblebees! 

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Fieldwork can be slow...

We were visiting the lovely and spacious gardens of Coombe Dingle earlier this week. In one large garden, amongst the bountiful vegetables, we found a piece of corrugated iron – a perfect place for snakes hiding from the heat. But lo! As well as a grass snake (too quick for my trigger finger, alas!) we found a very contented slow worm. We left it to its business and continued with our sampling, which happened to be very fruitful. Or should that be vegetable-ful?

Stuck Van on Allotment Site

When we arrived at our region 5 allotment site we found a stuck van blocking the entrance gate. As we got out the driver explained that he came in with a load of wood chippings which must have weighted the van down so it just fit under the iron bar over the gate. After he emptied the load of wood chippings and drove back out the van was a bit higher (because it was lighter) so it got stuck under the iron bar over the gate.

We all tried to help now and Peter and the driver first lifted the iron bar a little bit, the driver was then standing on the van pushing it down and Peter was driving the van slowly under the bar while the driver kept pushing the van down. We got the van trough the gate but the iron bar got loose so we had to fix it into its former position again ... .

But at least the entrance gate was free again and we could drive in to do the allotment transect ;-).

Reading Flower Meadow Pictures

Prospect Park Annual Meadow:

Cintra Park Perennial Meadow (unfortunately the weeds germinated first):

Some annual flower Meadow seedlings:

Reading Flower Meadows

Reading council (in collaboration with the Urban Pollinator Project) has sown 5 annual and 5 perennial flower meadows in parks, a cemetery and along a road verge in Reading.
Annual meadows were sown in the following places:
1.       Victoria Recreation Ground (Tilehurst)
2.       Prospect Park
3.       Christchurch Meadows
4.       Caversham Crematorium
5.       Rabsons recreation Ground
Perennial meadows were sown in the following places:
1.       Meadway Recreation Ground
2.       Prospect Park
3.       Portman Road East
4.       Westfield Road Recreation Ground
5.       Cintra Park
The annual meadows were sown in May and are germinating now. You can see for example Cosmos, Pot Marigold and Californian Poppy seedlings. The perennial meadows take longer to germinate and we hope there will be soon seedlings visible. The perennial plants will be native and will not flower this year but should flower next year.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

What do bees do in bad weather?

What do bees do in bad weather? Well, this Bombus hypnorum bee seemed to be hanging about (from this brightly coloured pansy) - perhaps waiting for the good weather to arrive. Fingers crossed!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Wet bee, and behaviours #4

Wet bee

How wet can a bee get?  Very, very wet, it seems!  After last night's torrential rains, we were out bright and early, and came across this poor thing...

Behaviour obs #4 

Down in the dark woods today, we watched a small bumblebee visit several large hogweed leaves, and walk quickly round the edges of them one after another, before flying off.  Was this a male, laying a pheremone trail? 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Some Bombus behavioural obs

Bombus - aptly named bouncers!

It seems that our invertebrate friends are as jealous of their patch as anyone, and will do their utmost to turf out interlopers.  Bumblebees seem to be especially territorial, and bombastically biff hoverflies, bee-flies and other bee species off their clump of chives or out of their patch of forget-me-nots.  I have so far not managed to catch this bee-bouncing on film, but be assured I will post here as soon as I do!

The Bombus/knapweed question...

Bumblebees in a wildlife area of one of the city parks in Leeds were showing a lot of interest in knapweed flowers, despite the fact that the flower buds were still tightly closed.  Closer inspection suggested that they were supping something being exuded by the plant - you can see tiny droplets of something on the surface of the flower bud in the photo below....

The question is, was the knapweed excreting something from the flower buds, and, if so, to what end?  It didn't seem likely that the bees were engaged in nectar-robbing, as the scales on knapweed are fairly tough - but we're happy to be wrong about that, if anyone knows better!  Ideas on a postcard, please, or as a comment below ;)

As an aside (slightly) - the wildlife area in this park, planted with species such as geranium, day lilies, thyme, knapweed, was really buzzing with things; a stark contrast to nearby 'traditionally' planted areas (predominantly begonia, petunia and tagetes marigolds), which were noticeably lacking in invertebrate visitors.

Update (11 June):
The plant there is, I think, an ornamental cornflower, Centaurea montana, rather than a knapweed - I'm  only slowly getting to grips with these civilised plants!

Bee-haviour observations #3 - Nomada & Andrena interactions

Apologies for the apparent obsession with Andrena bees, but they're out and about at the moment, and soon to be over and done for another year (well, most of them, anyway), so we have to make the most of our brief time together.  We've been spotting them in all sorts of habitats (cemeteries, gardens, woodlands), which is interesting in itself - but what has really tugged at my metaphorical sleeve is the occasional interaction we have seen between these and other bee species. 

Everywhere we have seen Andrena bees, we have seen the small yellow and black figures of Nomada bees, skimming over the ground like tiny, wasp-like, airborne sharks.  These are also known as cuckoo bees, and just like the feathered cuckoos, they lay their eggs in the nests of other species - in this case, primarily Andrena bee species.  I've already posted pics of Nomadas hawking over ground used by Andrenas for nest sites in gardens, and here's another - a face-off between Andrena and Nomada females at the entrance to a nest site.

So, just as our more southerly colleagues have already posted, manmade surfaces may hold more use for pollinators than you might at first think!  We've been discussing the relative merits of various habitats, and this illustrates well that it's not always just about flowers, pollen and nectar resources - provision of nest and overwintering habitats are also important.